Reporter Forgoes Covering President as Romance Blossoms with Biden Aide Battling Cancer: ‘Didn’t Think Twice’

"We both realized we both felt the same way," TJ Ducklo, a White House deputy press secretary, says of Axios' Alexi McCammond. "We're both really happy, and we wanted to do it the right way"

It is — forgive the cliché — a tale as old as tales themselves: Girl meets boy, boy and girl decide to have personal-not-professional drinks the following year. They date (pandemic-safe, of course). Parents get introduced. A romance blossoms.

In the case of Alexi McCammond and TJ Ducklo, however, there were some wrinkles.

McCammond, 27, is an NBC/MSNBC contributor and reporter for the political website Axios. She covered Joe Biden's presidential campaign in 2019 and 2020 and got to know Ducklo, then Biden's press secretary.

They were collegial, as reporters and officials often are, and then they were friends. Ducklo, 32, was "super single," while McCammond was in a serious relationship. But things change.

In November, they say, they started dating.

"We both realized we both felt the same way," Ducklo, who joined the Biden White House as a deputy press secretary, tells PEOPLE. "We're both really happy, and we wanted to do it the right way."

That meant telling their bosses. An Axios spokeswoman says McCammond, who joined the site in 2017, told her editors about the relationship in November "and asked to be taken off of the Biden beat." She was reassigned to covering progressive lawmakers in Congress and progressives across the U.S. as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, the spokeswoman says.

"We stand behind her and her coverage," the spokeswoman says of McCammond, describing her as "a valued member of the Axios team."

For her part, McCammond says, "When my personal life had the potential to interfere with my work, I didn't think twice about sharing my happiness in November with Axios that I'd found someone in TJ who shows up for me in a way I'd only hoped for."

TJ Ducklo; Alexi McCammond
From left: TJ Ducklo and Alexi McCammond. Twitter (2)

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"Switching beats was an easy decision thanks to my Axios [family], who had my back in November and know just how lovely it is to find someone who cares deeply about you," McCammond says.

Ducklo likewise "disclosed the relationship to his bosses at the very beginning of the relationship," says a White House source who called him "an incredibly talented and valued member of the team."

They know news of their relationship will stir disapproval over the optics and the timing, at least. The way the press covers politicians in Washington, D.C., is endlessly scrutinized — too lax or too harsh, too familiar, too fond.

McCammond, a rising star on her beat, has talked about the added dynamic of being a Black woman in an industry not historically welcoming to either. And, as a group, female reporters have long faced the misogynistic accusation they become inappropriately involved with male sources.

"These past few years have shown how easy it is for some to make quick and misguided judgments of those in the public eye. As a young Black woman in this industry, I've felt this firsthand several times," McCammond says. "TJ and I knew full well the unfair criticism our relationship might face, but knew that we weren't going to let bullies get in the way of our own happiness."

McCammond's work on Capitol Hill and Harris hasn't really pulled her so far away from Biden's orbit. Still, she and Ducklo say their professional and personal lives don't mix; and their relationship wasn't exactly hidden. "It was the worst-kept secret in Washington," says another White House aide, who like others here was quick to positively comment on the coupling.

Ducklo and McCammond also don't live together (though Ducklo has been dog-sitting McCammond's mini-schnauzer, Marlin).

"We keep it totally separate. I don't know what she's working on and she doesn't know what I'm working on," Ducklo says. "It means a lot of calls in hallways, in bathrooms and while one of us is walking her dog." (Has he been a source for her while they date? "Absolutely not," he insists. She says, "TJ has not been a source for any story I've worked on or in any capacity since we began dating.")

White House love story
Alexi McCammond (not pictured) with her dog Marlin and TJ Ducklo. courtesy Alexi McCammond
whitehouse love story
From left: Alexi McCammond and TJ Ducklo at a doctor's appointment for Ducklo in December. courtesy Alexi McCammond

They have leaned on one another: Ducklo was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in December 2019 and has been receiving treatment while working on the campaign and in the White House. McCammond accompanies him to his cancer scans.

She says Ducklo's diagnosis helped her realize her view of him had changed.

"After the election, when we both had some downtime, it was clear that our years-long friendship had the potential for something else. When TJ was diagnosed … I had a sense then how much he meant to me and I'm just grateful that I get to be there for him now every step of the way as his partner," she says.

Life moves fast.

"In December 2019, it looked like Joe Biden was going to lose the Democratic primary and I was diagnosed with stage-four cancer and I was super single," Ducklo says. "One year later, Joe Biden is the president-elect and I have my cancer under control ... and I'm in this serious relationship, which has really the been the best thing that has ever happened in my personal life. What a difference a year can make."

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